Lights, camera, action


The smartphone was born in the 1990s out of a merger between a mobile phone that could make phone calls, and the Personal Digital Assistant (PDA) that could process emails, contacts and text documents. PDAs were connected to the internet via a cable and modem. Since that time the smartphone has been developed into an indispensable tech companion that we cannot live without.

Whilst the phone part of the smartphone has seen improvements in speech quality it still does the same job as the original analogue mobile phone back in 1979. It rings then you answer, talk and listen.

The real area of smartphone development however is in the camera technology. Today the camera has up to five high quality lenses with five digital sensors. The digital camera of a smartphone creates and stores the image in a similar way as a Digital Single Lens Reflex (DSLR) camera. As the optics of a smartphone camera are much smaller than a DSLR very high-quality lenses can be produced much more cheaply. Where the smartphone camera beats a DSLR is that software in the phone can analyse, process and manipulate the image. The latest Samsung Galaxy range has three lenses on the rear and two on the front. The camera software can merge the multi lens image into a single high-quality image with great depth.

Cameras can do much more than just take pictures. The Quick Response (QR) code is a two-dimensional barcode first designed in 1994 for the automotive industry in Japan. QR codes have become common in consumer advertising. Typically, the camera is used as a QR code scanner, displaying the code and converting it into some useful form such as a standard URL for a website, thereby obviating the need for a user to type the URL into a web browser.

There are apps you can use to transform your camera into a document scanner and convert the images to PDF files and email the result files which is a real time saver.

Have you ever looked at the night sky and wondered what stars are above you? If you’re interested in seeing Venus or finding out where Saturn is located in the night sky, get Sky Map for Android or Star Chart for iOS. These apps will get the image of the night sky from the camera and document the stars and planets that appear. 

Have you ever been in a foreign country and needed to translate some printed text? Let your camera do the work, snap a picture of the text. Google Translate can use Optical Character Recognition (OCR) to automatically interpret the text and translate it for you. It’s not perfect, but it can work surprisingly well and is faster than typing words into a Translation app.

“Augmented Reality” is a new buzzword, but a fairly simple concept. With an Augmented Reality app, your smartphone captures a live picture from its camera and uses its software to interpret the image and modify it.

For example, IKEA’s catalogue app now allows you to use augmented reality to picture how a piece of IKEA furniture would look in your home, although you need the paper catalogue to do this properly.

We may think that augmented reality apps have struggled to find real-world use cases, although they do make all sorts of cool things possible.

If we could have seen into the future, maybe we would have called the device we have just investigated a Smart camera that could also make phone calls.

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Jeff Mimery